For Democratic and Republican presidents alike, “light-touch” regulation has brought consistent results for American consumers and the U.S. economy. In the vein of presidents from Reagan to Clinton, both President Obama and Governor Romney have shared common ground in speaking of the need for disciplined restraint when it comes to regulation of American innovation, placing their confidence in consumer choices and innovators’ ambitions over a government-controlled marketplace.
But in this partisan season, hard-won policy consensus can easily be frayed. Partisan hold-outs on both sides are eager to divide. They should not be permitted to do so. For the American economy to succeed, innovation policy in the United States must remain a partisan-free-zone.
As a nation, we must move from policies that focus solely on investment in older technologies to policies that help drive investment in 21st Century IP technologies that will serve as the foundation for our infrastructure going forward.
Neither candidate should fear championing this consensus. History looks back favorably on the largely bipartisan preference for regulatory restraint with regard to the Internet. Concessions to extreme voices would be a devastating blow to one of the crowning economic achievements of the past half-century. Presidents from Bill Clinton forward have resisted “government knows best” calls for command-and-control policy. As a result, our nation has been rewarded with the rapid expansion of an Internet-fueled innovation economy.
When President Obama took the reins, Blackberry in hand, we were in the early days of a mobile-driven renaissance in how we connect. Today, more smartphones are sold than PCs. Nearly 1 in 3 households are wireless only. And within four years, wireless tablets are expected to be our primary computing devices. The extraordinary pace of this progress must continue.
Regardless of who leads this country forward, our nation's economic philosophy cannot be that government-led policy is always the best policy. That is a losing argument and, as innovation has consistently proven, a falsehood. Nor can our philosophy be that government must stay out of the way altogether. Government has a positive role to play by supporting constructive policies that encourage investment and ubiquitous Internet access, freeing-up crucial spectrum, defending consumers, and supporting long-term technology research and development.
We have enjoyed a generation of intense competition and innovation. In this campaign season, a recommitment by both candidates to the bipartisan policies that got us here is needed. What might a pro-growth innovation policy look like? A commitment to:
• Policies that will help spur investment in 21st century digital technologies and broadband infrastructure.
• Digital inclusion—mobile connectivity for virtually all Americans.
• World-class wireless infrastructure—and policies that encourage the continued historic levels of private investment that make it possible.
• Widespread opportunities for mobile entrepreneurs and innovators. This means moving decisively and swiftly to make more spectrum capacity available to support the rapid expansion of wireless Internet connectivity.
• Engineers rather than politicians presiding over the most advanced and capable mobile networks in the world.
• Freedom of expression, in accordance with the law; and
• Regulatory humility when it comes to our nation’s Internet and innovation policy.
The push and pull of an election year have reopened old debates. Those who would return to the past, however, would be wise to note the broad popular mistrust not only of big companies, but also big government.
American innovation policy to date has helped us transcend partisan divides. It stands tall as a roadmap for unleashing the innovators in our society. The nation will make its choice in November. Our national candidates face a more immediate choice. Will they, for reasons of political expediency, choose to undo the carefully woven fabric of our nation's consensus-based innovation policy, relegating this essential progress to stagnant gridlock? Or will they step up and lead—taking the best traditions of bipartisan leadership and make it continue to truly work for our nation.
Spalter, chairman of Mobile Future, has been founding CEO of leading technology, media, and research companies, including Public Insight, Snocap, and Atmedica Worldwide. He served in the Clinton Administration as a director on the National Security Council.